Changing School Culture: the Core of the Strategy

by Rick on November 1, 2020

Four years ago we discovered (if we didn’t already know) that there are two kinds of baby-boomers: those who believe that a great society needs collaboration, intellectual freedom, open mindedness and those who believe too much free thinking opens a “Pandora’s box” and lets evil into the world.

Today, core questions still rattle in the mind and rage in the streets.

  • Is our economy best when everyone is looking out for himself, or can we do better than that?
  • Is politics best when clashes of different points of view result in creative thinking or when those who are right win?
  • Generosity versus Look out for number one?
  • Collaboration versus Go it alone?
  • Creatitivity versus Get it right the first time?

These are rhetorical questions. The correct answers are becoming more obvious with each election:

  • The imperatives to collaborate, create, and contribute are increasingly obvious as required skill sets for human success both individually and collectively.
  • The call to collaborate is moderating solo virtuosity.
  • The need to create is qualifying the pressure to be right.
  • The imperative to contribute is preempting “take care of yourself.”
  • Self-made, arrogant men are becoming increasingly unpopular as the solitary, autocratic, directive leader becomes more obviously dysfunctional.

It clearer to me today than it was four years ago that the Trump phenomenon is the rear-guard skirmish in an obsolete culture clash. This election will give us a gross measure of how far our culture has come in the last four years.

But the required change seems to take forever. One of the reasons this revolution keeps taking so long is that the culture of most schools is still a century old. Efforts to make schooling educational fail not because of standards or curriculum or poverty or parents or privatization or technology or textbooks or money. They certainly don’t fail for want of trying. They fail because of culture.

We must change school culture.Culture is the delivery system for education, because whatever the curriculum is, children’s brains are constructing their own content from the context in which the curriculum is delivered. They are minute-by-minute making a mental map of how the world works and how they can make it work. School culture shapes their brains. The context determines what they make of the content.

Therefore, instead of revising “standards” again and again and calling it reform, we must change school culture.

  • Instead of doing things to kids and recording their re-actions, what if school were a place for kids to act?
  • What if we were to look at students as agents of their own wellbeing?
  • What if we acted as if people have an innate need to create?
  • What if we acted as if relationships are our business and that working together and being valuable to other people and to society is what kids are born to do.
  • What if we were to look not at building self-esteem, but rather what self needs to do to be efficacious?
  • What if school were a place where teachers were held accountable for doing what got them into the business in the first place: helping each person in their care make something of themselves?
  • Imagine a school where failure, conflict, mistakes and diversity are welcomed as our best learning opportunities.
  • Imagine a school where “Builds on other people’s ideas,” “Knows when to lead and when to follow,” “Listens with a willingness to change,” “Uses mistakes as learning opportunities,” are metrics.

In this highly charged environment when fear and anger cause people to make stupid decisions, I would, again, like to respectfully suggest that we look at school culture as the ounce of prevention for making America even greater than it is. Even if all we cared about were the 3R’s, we must teach them in the context of a school culture high in the three C’s: Collaborating, Creating and Contributing.

Buy my new book on the subject: Life Lessons from Working with Great Teachers.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenny Cowgill November 12, 2020 at 7:05 am

I think this is spot on. Culture shapes everything. In school and outside it. I think it is hard for schools to change because this is not always the culture outside of school. At least not in our current environment. But I think it is imperative that we change the culture and I do think it starts with education. A more loving collaborative culture so obviously creates an environment where everyone thrives.

mdmohin November 21, 2020 at 9:56 pm

Your website contains a lot of information for the student like me. I am feeling happy to see.

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